Like many of Musk’s claims, such as that he would create cheap working robots, build Mars colonies, help protect the Ukrainian people from the Russians, and enable free speech on Twitter while making money, he has a few tiny hurdles to overcome.
While Musk is touting that his Neuralink interface will be “the next iPhone” he has not managed to install it into a living creature without a death rate that even the Bubonic Plague could not match. After installing the interface into primates, Neuralink killed 15 out of 23 test subjects.
Earlier in February, Neuralink confirmed that monkeys had died during prototype testing of its BCI implants at the University of California, Davis Primate Center but rejected accusations by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine of animal cruelty.
Musk responded by saying that before Neuralink puts a device in an animal, it did so with rigorous benchtop testing. It would be of great relief to any monkey who died after having one sewn into their heads that it was a well tested Neuralink device that killed them.
"We're cautious and we always want the device, whenever we do the implant — whether into a sheep, pig or monkey — to be confirmatory, not exploratory."
The statement begs the question “confirmatory of what?” Perhaps the answer is that allowing Musk to play Doctor Moreau on animals is not a very good idea.
Then there is the competition. In July, rivals Synchron beat Neuralink to market when doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York successfully installed an inch-and-a-half-longand-a-half long device into a person living with ALS. The patient, who has lost their ability to move and communicate independently, should be able to surf the web and send text messages using the device to translate their thoughts into computer commands.
Musk was a little busy at the time as it was revealed that he was having an affair with a Neuralink executive, who became pregnant with his twins. At least Musk had life-affirming priorities this time and there is always the engineering maxim that if you can’t make something work it is always good to have some spare parts on hand.
Musk tried to solve the problem of Synchron’s technical superiority by buying the company in August although that was as successful as anything else that he had been doing lately.
While no one was looking, the company’s co-founder, Max Hodak quit although he said was still a “huge cheerleader” for Neuralink’s success.
Meanwhile, Neuralink is awaiting FDA approval for its implant, two years after the agency awarded the device its Breakthrough Device Designation in July 2020 which is supposed to fast-track these sorts of things.
It looks like the ghosts of 15 dead apes have had their say, and the FDA updated its best practice guidance for clinical and nonclinical BCI testing in 2021 and Neuralink approval has ground to a halt.
While there is no doubt that brain implants are a good way for humanity to help disabled people, it is a moot point if Musk, who believes giving antisemites the ability to speak, has got the idea right.
In 2021 he said that Neuralink was like a “Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires.”
The device relies on as many as 1,024, 5-micron diameter leads "sewn" into a patient's grey matter to form connections with the surrounding neurons, providing a high-resolution sampling of the brain's electrical emissions and translating between analogue electrical impulses and digital computer code.
However, rather than being the next iPhone, all Neuralink has accomplished is getting a monkey to play Pong without a joystick – if it did not die trying.